Matt Young was at Spurs from under 9’s level to under 16’s (formerly of Charlton Athletic) before leaving the club in 2010, after not being offered a scholarship by Spurs. A defender by trade, the Romford born player joined Southampton after leaving Spurs, where he played for their under 18 side and also the reserves/under 21’s, and Young would later join Sheffield Wednesday and while he didn’t play for their first team, he did go out on loan with Carlisle United for a spell. The defender has since played for the likes of Woking, Chelmsford City and most recently and as of last season Hampton & Richmond Borough. However, now running his own successful business where he works as a Mental Performance Coach, Matt is currently not involved in football in a playing capacity. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of interviewing Matt Young about his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Matt: My earliest footballing memories were when I was about four or five years old, and my dad used to take me over to the local park which was Harold Wood Park in Romford. He used to take me over there and kick a ball around with me, and I also remember me and him approaching a couple of Sunday league teams about me playing for them.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Matt: I was at Charlton originally and I spent one year there before I left, and when I left at maybe the age of seven or eight a friend of mine who I played with for my Sunday team had just joined Spurs. When I left Charlton out of my own decision my friends dad got in touch with my dad and said that I’ll put a word in for your son at Spurs, and so he spoke to the Spurs under 9’s manager at the time (Russell Small) and he said bring him in for a trial. I went in for a trial and then away we go, and the training for the youth used to be in a little hall which was attached to White Hart Lane, and so there was a little court in there where we used to train. They were my earliest memories when I used to train in there with Russell Small, and then when I moved up to under 10’s Steve Grenfell was my manager. I used to go there to train every Tuesday and Thursday night, before later playing our games at Spurs Lodge at Chigwell, and then Myddelton House.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Matt: For me I only ever had two, and between the age of five and maybe 12 it was always David Beckham. Then from about 12 or maybe younger I moved position and started playing centre-back before I went to right back, and then it was always John Terry. So David Beckham and John Terry were always my idols.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Matt: So when I was at Charlton I was a right-midfielder because of David Beckham, but I was always big for my age and I’m actually the same height that I am now since I was 15. So I was always big for my age and so I moved to centre-back at Spurs for the whole time that I was there, from under 9’s to under 16’s. It was only after Spurs when I moved to Southampton that I moved to right-back, so that was always my position, and I was very much a leader and I was very much a captain. I captained most of if not all of the sides that I was in, and I was very vocal and very demanding as a captain and as a leader as well, and so that was my way. I was always about the work ethic side of things and very much high on the attitude and the effort and hard work, and discipline. So that would be how I would characterise myself as a vocal leader.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Matt: From a playing perspective it was always Michael Dawson and I used to love Michael Dawson, and I used to take parts of his game and put them into my own game. Obviously he was playing in the first team at the time and so from a playing perspective it was always Michael Dawson, but from a coaching perspective I’ve had many great coaches there, but the main coaches who had the most profound effect on me were Steve Palmer and Bradley Allen. Ose Aibangee was also very good with me, and so those three all had a very big effect on me. But when I first started there was a guy called Roger Miller who ran a youth centre when I first started, and he was a massive influence on me.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Matt: So as I say Michael Dawson was always my inspiration, but I used to really study players when I was younger. I always used to look at the first team and generally it was Michael Dawson and Ledley King at centre-back, and I played more like Michael Dawson than Ledley King, but I used to really study Michael Dawson a lot. I also used to really like Younes Kaboul as well and I used to really like the way that he played, and he was a bit quicker than me but he was definitely someone that I also used to look at and think how can I put more parts of his game into my game. So they would be the two players I would say.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites (so far)?
Matt: So I was 16 and going for my scholarship and I was a centre-back, and very basically I was 5’11 and the opinions of the powers that be at the time were that I wasn’t going to be tall enough to be a centre-back at Tottenham Hotspur. So that was it and they let me go for that reason, and I was there for seven years and then that was the end of that. Then leaving there at the age of 16 I signed for Southampton, and pretty early on during my time there they moved me to right-back. I had a two year scholarship and a two year professional contract at Southampton, so I played under Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino and Alan Pardew, and as I say I have been a right-back ever since that time and after leaving Southampton I went to Sheffield Wednesday where I spent a year. While there I went on loan to Carlisle United, and then I spent a bit of time playing for Dover Athletic and Kidderminster Harriers, and then I spent probably one of my best seasons as a professional at Woking in the National League, which was a really strong time. And since then I moved more into part-time football to play mainly in the National League South.
Having to leave Spurs must have been very difficult for you. How did you find that?
Matt: It’s funny because when I joined Spurs at under 9 level my manager was Russell Small, and he actually let me go after one season. So at under 9’s he let me go and that was very much a shock to me, so I went away and left the club and then when the new manager Steve Grenfell came in at under 10’s, someone got in touch with him and said that maybe I shouldn’t have left. So he actually got in touch and I signed for Spurs again and I stayed there ever since, so that was quite a shock for me. Then it came to under 16’s when they let me go, but I’m a resilient person because of stuff that had went on in my own life up until that point, so I have a resilience, desire and discipline to say ok you’ve let me go and this is upsetting, but let’s go. So I was very driven in that aspect.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Matt: It was really, really good and I wouldn’t have a bad word to say as the coaching was phenomenal, and the facilities even at Spurs Lodge were really, really good. So I was at one of the most prestigious clubs in the world and I was there for seven years of my life as a young boy, and I was somebody who loved football and wanted to be a professional football player, and so being in that environment I couldn’t have asked for anymore. So on the whole it was absolutely phenomenal.
What was it like to play with Harry Kane for a number of years and from a young age. And what was he like then as a player?
Matt: So Harry was the year above me, but when you moved up into the under 15’s side the under 16’s were also part of the same team. So basically I used to play a lot with Harry as an under 16 when he wasn’t himself stepping up to play for the youth team. So I was a centre-back but Harry used to play as a defensive-midfielder, and he’s gone onto maybe be the Premier League’s greatest ever striker but playing with him as an under 15 and him being a defensive-midfielder he was always quite tall. But honestly he wasn’t the most eye catching at that time and I’m not saying that he wasn’t a great footballer at all, but he wasn’t the Harry Kane that we see today. But he was one of the lads and if I remember correctly he was quite vocal I think, and he was quite vocal on the pitch. But honestly did I see at that time or think at that time that he was going to be the Harry Kane that we see today? I think no. But I also didn’t think that he’d go onto be a number nine in the way that he has, so all credit to him.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career (so far)?
Matt: Getting my professional contract at Southampton. I was 17 and the club had just been promoted to the Premier League it was a very tense moment because we knew that three weeks previous to that that there were going to be decisions made. So since the age of five that was what my goal to become a professional footballer, so that was definitely my greatest moment.
Who has been the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Matt: Playing with I would say Luke Shaw, as I played with him at Southampton (I also played with some unbelievable players such as James Ward-Prowse and Harry Kane) in many different sides, and he has absolutely everything and if he wants to be the best left-back in the world, then he can be. I played against Adnan Januzaj in a reserve match and he was a tough player to play against, and I played against Jesse Lingard, but I found Adnan Januzaj to be tougher to play against. So Adnan Januzaj is the one that springs to mind, so I’ll say him.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Matt: When I was an under 14 player we went to Qatar to play, which was really amazing to play on tour there. Then when I was an under 15 we went to America to play on tour which was amazing as well, and also when I played for the under 10’s I scored a last minute equaliser against Ipswich away, which was quite a big moment. So those are the three memories that spring to mind.
Who was toughest player that you ever came up against?
Matt: As I said before it would probably be Adnan Januzaj and I came up against him twice, and I found him to be quite a tough player. I’ve played against some really tough players as well, such as international players like Romelu Lukaku who was a very good player to play against, so I would say either Adnan Januzaj or Romelu Lukaku.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Matt: From my Spurs days I was always close with Jack Munns and I still am now, and I also recently got back in touch with Kevin Stewart which is quite cool. Growing up I was also quite close with Jack Barthram, and so I was quite close with both Jack Munns and Jack Barthram, and as I say I’ve recently got back in touch with Kevin Stewart. So those are the players who I would say that I was close with.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Matt: I could go very generic and talk about attitude, but for me I feel that we live in a day and age of everything’s now, now, now. And if you’re not doing it now then you are doing something wrong, and I don’t believe that that is generally the case. I believe that in any youth setup across England that there are some incredible, incredible players and I’ve played against many of them, so I know how great they are. So for me, for any youth player trying to breakthrough I would say two things and one is to look at the team and see what you need to do in terms of what someone is doing in your position, and what you need to model and how you can add more value to that. Then two is to trust the work that you are putting in, and if you know the work that you are putting in is the right work then trust that and go with that, and don’t get swayed and don’t think that you should have it quicker than what you already do. Because as I say I feel that that is very much the day and age that we live in, so they are the two things that I would say to do.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who you still hold close to your heart?
Matt: Definitely! I naturally always look out for the Spurs results and always have a look, and I actually had the pleasure with my business as a mental performance coach to speak at Spurs, which was an absolute pleasure. So they are always a team that is close to my heart and I spent seven years at Spurs, and so it shaped me into the footballer that I have become. So I’ll always have fond memories of my time there, and of the coaches and the setup, and the platform that it gave me. And as I say it’s always a club that I’m looking out for and cheering on, unless they’re playing West Ham of course!